LONDON/BELFAST • Thousands of people across the United Kingdom protested yesterday against Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament for about a month before the deadline for the country to leave the EU.
Mr Johnson has pledged to take Britain out of the EU on Oct 31, with or without a deal on future relations with the bloc. The move to shut Parliament for around a month in the period before that will hinder efforts by his opponents to stop him from doing so.
About 2,000 people gathered outside 10. Downing Street, chanting: "Liar Johnson, shame on you!" A sign read: "#StopTheCoup. Defend our Democracy. Save our future."
The government has said it is usual for Parliament to be suspended before a new prime minister outlines his policy programme in a Queen's speech, now scheduled for Oct 14. Mr Johnson's supporters have also said Parliament usually breaks in late September, when the main political parties hold their annual conferences.
But his critics say the suspension, known as a prorogation, is unusually long; they describe the move as a thinly veiled attempt to reduce the time that lawmakers will have to debate before Britain leaves the EU at the end of next month.
Opposition lawmakers want to prevent the shutdown of Parliament and pass legislation to avoid a no-deal Brexit when they return from summer recess on Tuesday.
The protests were organised by the anti-Brexit group Another Europe Is Possible and by Momentum, which is allied with the opposition Labour Party. The group is urging its membership to "occupy bridges and blockade roads".
Organisers said protests were planned in more than 30 locations throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In Exeter, western England, 55-year-old pharmacist Bridie Walton said she was attending the first demonstration of her life.
"Nobody voted for a dictatorship," she said, condemning Mr Johnson's suspension of Parliament. "These are the actions of a man who is afraid his arguments will not stand scrutiny."
The Prime Minister, who helped lead the successful Brexit referendum campaign, said his government is actively pursuing a new deal with EU leaders and claimed that opposition to his policy will make it harder to wring concessions from Europe.
About 100 people protested outside the city hall in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, which has become a particular focus in the Brexit negotiations as it has the United Kingdom's only land border with the European Union.
The "backstop" insurance policy, part of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between the EU and former British prime minister Theresa May, has become the main sticking point in negotiations.
Mr Johnson wants the backstop removed, saying it could leave Northern Ireland operating under different regulatory rules than the rest of Britain. The EU and Ireland say Britain has yet to come up with acceptable alternatives.
The thing that scares me most is they have no appreciation of what is important for Northern Ireland. We are not on their radar... The border means nothing to them and they don't give two hoots about it.
MR GRAHAM GLENDINNING, a software worker.
A court case being heard in Belfast this week aims to block Mr Johnson's suspension of Parliament on the grounds that a no-deal Brexit would breach the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to the British-run province of Northern Ireland.
Protesters said the government has failed to take into account the importance of the border issue.
"The thing that scares me most is they have no appreciation of what is important for Northern Ireland. We are not on their radar," said Mr Graham Glendinning, 49, a software worker. "The border means nothing to them and they don't give two hoots about it."
The shutdown of Parliament is also being challenged in two other separate court cases scheduled to be heard this week.
REUTERS, ASSOCIATED PRESS